Profiteering globally acting locally - campaigning against war profiteers

Act local think global, it's one of the main mottoes of the globalisation from below movement. In this globalised world where there are no borders for goods and information. Where corporations cover all the world and the dominant culture is imposed in every corner of the planet. The reaction from the movement is to act locally while thinking globally, the globalisation from below movement protests against big summits of the economic power while constructing economic alternatives locally – as cooperatives, squatters, barter markets, etc. During the last four years, War Resisters' International (WRI) has worked fostering campaigns against war profiteering, with the aim to work at a global scale. The challenges has been how to have a global impact while acting locally. Through this process there has been a lot of discussions on the focus, strategies and scope of the work against war profiteering by WRI.

Focus

Discussions about a WRI global campaign against war profiteers started in 2004, in the heights of the invasion of Iraq – war that showed the intrinsic connection between war and economics. At the time the discussion was for WRI to focus on one or two corporations, following Arundhati Roy's speech at the 2004 Mumbai World Social Forum that the movement should pick two major corporation profiteering from the destruction of Iraq. A natural focus seemed to be Halliburton - one of the biggest corporation making profits in Iraq and with direct links to the decision makers as then Vice President Dick Cheney had previously been CEO of the corporation. However, especially as Halliburton does not have any consumer products to boycott, it was hard to envisage how an international campaign could be effective. Therefore, in line with WRI's general role of trying to link groups, it made more sense for WRI to try to play more of a role in connecting groups already campaigning in their own countries and with their own targets.

A central question in shaping the work against war profiteering has been, how to define who are war profiteers. War profiteering clearly goes beyond the arms industry but how far can we go? Our latest discussion concluded by including the following activities:

  • arms and other products sold to the military. So it is not just the product but the client that defines what companies we target.
  • the private military sector, a booming business especially in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and with the US programme of re-organising its overseas military bases into super-bases.
  • military entrepreneurship i.e. where the military uses its position to dominate economic sectors, as in Indonesia, Turkey and Pakistan.
  • companies directly exploiting war (e.g. those "reconstructing" Iraq, those making profits from the occupation of Palestine, etc.)

Strategies

What makes a good strategy against war profiteers? Successful campaigns have developed effective campaigns by combining different types of tactics. Neither direct action nor lobbying a military factory will be effective by themselves. You need a combination where you can put direct pressure against the corporations, like with direct action, as well as activities more involving the general public, such as boycotts. Companies that produce consumer goods like CATerpillar or have direct links to the public as banks, are easier to target as they depend on consumers to stay in business. Corporations as Private Military Constructors (mercenaries) are harder to campaign as they have no direct links with the public, they make their deals in close doors with governments and people get recruited without public notice. Here is where we need to use a combination of tactics in our campaigns, lobbying governments telling them that the presence of mercenaries in conflict zones is illegal, exposing these corporations to the general public for what they are – mercenaries, supporting the work on counter recruitment in all fronts, etc.

As an international organisation we are especially conscious of the contribution that transnational alliances can make to successful campaigns. For example forming alliances between organisations against the arms trade in the Netherlands campaigning against the export of Dutch weapons to Indonesia, and Indonesian organisations working with local communities and the impact of violent conflicts in the region and the sharing of information on military budgets and export deals can strengthen our level of impact.

Some successful stories...

Honeywell was a company based in Minneapolis, USA, that produced cluster bombs. In 1968 a group of people in Minneapolis formed a group to campaign against Honeywell. The group started with six months of research to know as much as possible about the corporation. Then they started leafleting outside the company. A year after the group was formed they held a big demonstration during Honeywell's Annual Shareholders Meeting. More than 14 local groups were form to work in the campaign and speaking tours took place. After years of campaigning they started carrying nonviolence training and doing direct actions with the aim of shutting the headquarters for a day, these actions took place twice a year. The campaign included media work by getting presence at TV shows and having famous people at their action. In 1989 Honeywell tried to sell off their weapons division, when it could not be sold, they created a new company named Alliant Tech. Honeywell said the closure had nothing to do with the strong protest against them, but the facts manifest the contrary. Alliant Tech continues to exist and to produce cluster bombs.1

My Money Clear Conscience is a Belgian campaign that initially began asking the banks to disinvest from arms producers, later, the goal became disinvesting from controversial arms producers. From the beginning it was a campaign combining peace organisations and ethical bank watchers, where the ethical bankwatchers did the research on the financial links, the peace organisations did the research on the arms producers. The campaign started by researching Belgian banks with investments in the arms trade, after the research they published a report, which was made public, which banks could not ignore. After the report was published, the campaign combined creative street actions at offices of the banks with lobbying work and public awareness work trying to make the clients of the banks to write to the banks demanding them to dis-invest from the arms trade. The campaign has had several successes, including getting banks to withdrawal from companies producing cluster bombs and a law in Belgium that banns investments in cluster munitions.2

DSEi is one of the biggest arms fairs in the world that takes place every two years in London. For many years there has been campaigns to shut down DSEi. The arms fair till 2007 was owned by Reed Elsevier, a well know publisher specialising in the scientific world. The campaign against DSEi has included, direct action at the fair, big demonstrations during the event, shareholders action, etc. After years of pressure against Reed Elsevier, and especially after key members of the scientific world said that it was incompatible for a publisher like Reed to also be involved in the arms trade, the company decided to sell the fair cause it could not continue to be associated to the arms trade. The fair has now been bought by Clarion Event, a company that specialises in the organisation of events, and that doesn't feel that the organisation of an event promoting the arms trade will have a damaging impact for them.3

In all these cases, the campaigns included a combination of tactics, starting with good research on the corporations and a diversity of actions, including direct actions, lobbying, big demonstration, shareholders actions, etc. Having a range of actions, facilitates that different people can get involved in different ways. Some feel that the way to change things is by incurring in actions of civil disobedience, other are prepared to take part in big demonstrations and others see that their contribution to the campaign can be in the form of writing letters. We need a space for all.

In peace campaigning there are few absolute victories, and so it is with these three cases. In the first case the company changed name and continued to be involved in the same business. In the second one, banks have not dis-invested in all the arms trade and the producers of cluster bombs continue to receive investment from financial institutions outside Belgium. In the case of DSEi, the fair is again taking place in September 2009, where deadly agreements will be made. Nevertheless, each campaign should be seen as an achievement, a step along the long road of making war profiteering visible and holding war profiteers to account.

Javier Gárate

Notes

1) http://wri-irg.org/node/3101
2) http://wri-irg.org/node/6288